Monday, March 5, 2018

90th Annual Academy Awards (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scences, ABC-TV, aired March 4, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I watched the 90th annual Academy Awards show at home, though he wanted a “festive” atmosphere so we ordered a pizza delivered from Sicilian Thing (now that they deliver) and got it early because we know there can be a big rush on these sorts of things on Oscar night — one year we waited over an hour for a pizza delivery from Papa John’s (well before they somehow got the reputation of being white supremacists’ favorite pizza, much to the consternation of Papa John’s marketing department!) because so many other people were calling in to have pizzas delivered the night of the Oscars! In a lot of ways it’s not your father’s or grandfather’s Academy Awards anymore ­— and not only because winners, nominees, presenters and Academy officials alike were bending over backwards to show inclusiveness to women and people of color (even though most of the winners were still white males — the one female Best Director nominee, Greta Gerwig, didn’t win, and neither did the pioneering first woman nominated for Best Cinematographer; and Jordan Peele won for writing the anti-racist film Get Out but not for directing or producing it) but also because the days when one film would sweep most of the big awards are definitely over. The simple fact is that the movie industry doesn’t make films that are both audience-pleasing blockbusters and films of real quality anymore — there are no more Gone With the Winds, Lawrence of Arabias, Titanics or Lord of the Rings. The biggest movie of 2017, both in terms of box office and inclusion (a woman action lead and a woman director!), was Wonder Woman, and it didn’t get a single nomination because superhero films are ghettoized into a “not Oscar-worthy” category even if they’re great movies and commercial successes. (You don’t believe me? See if any of these people who are so loudly promoting “inclusion” give any nominations to The Black Panther next year.)

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water got more nominations than any other film — 13 — and it did win Best Picture as well as Best Director for del Toro (I haven’t seen it but from the clips I’ve seen it looks like his attempt to do Creature from the Black Lagoon only with the woman the Creature is after genuinely falling in love with him, and I was a bit put off by how much of the creature we saw in the clips — I guess from the earlier trailers I was hoping for a more Lewtonian treatment in which the creature would be suggested and we wouldn’t get that good a look at him), but it won only two other awards: Best Score for Alexandre Desplat (one of those modern minimalist composers who are just sort of there, providing commentary on the action but without actually making themselves felt as an integral part of the film the way classic-era composers like Korngold and Steiner did) and Best Production Design. The biggest single award that irked me was that Best Song went to “Remember Me,” another anodyne ditty from a Disney-Pixar movie, and not either of the two songs which received incandescent performances and were, to my mind, far superior: “Mighty River” from the film Mudbound — co-written and performed by Mary J. Blige, who also appeared in the film and won a Best Supporting Actress nomination; Blige did the song on the show and turned in a searing soul performance that shows what a great singer she is when she turns off the drum machines and gets back to her roots in the Black church — and “This Is Me” from the P. T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman, sung by a woman singer “of size” who’d probably be good casting, physically and vocally, if anyone wants to make a biopic of Mama Cass Elliott. (I’d heard “This Is Me” before but never sung with such searing power and emotion as it got last night — just as a few years ago, when “Let It Go” from the film Frozen won, Idina Menzel’s performance of the song on Oscar night was far more intense and emotionally riveting than the one on the actual soundtrack.)

I liked Jimmy Kimmel as host — I still think the only two people who’ve ever really mastered the job are Bob Hope and Billy Crystal, but Kimmel was better than most, personable and genuinely witty instead of just dumb or snide. (It was Jimmy Kimmel, wasn’t it? I keep getting him and Jimmy Fallon mixed up; can’t one of you call yourself “James” instead?) His oddest moment was when he brought a $20,000 Jet-Ski on stage — complete with a back-stage announcer promoting its virtues in the style of the assistant MC on a quiz show — and said he was awarding it to the person who gave the shortest acceptance speech, which turned out to be the costume design winner at 36 seconds. Despite that inducement towards brevity (one of my favorite Oscar anecdotes was the year after Greer Garson gave her seemingly endless acceptance speech for Mrs. Miniver, Bob Hope joked that the Academy had made a new rule: your acceptance speech could not be longer than your film) the show still lasted almost four hours, but it was a tribute to Fallon’s skill as MC, the inclusion of montages from movie history (at least one of which made a mistake: it was a tribute to Best Actress winners and it included a clip from Bette Davis in Of Human Bondagenot one of the two movies she won for, Dangerous and Jezebel) and an overall positive theme of the show — instead of making snide jokes about Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein or any of the other obvious targets, the Academy and its guests decided to present the “inclusion” theme in a positive way, pointing out how many of the winners were immigrants and the wide variety of nationalities represented among the nominees — the show didn’t seem that long and didn’t seem to drag the way some previous Oscar shows have.

Of course, there was also the inevitable joking about the famous fiasco that happened last year, when La La Land was named as Best Picture and then one of its producers leveled that the real winner was Moonlight — the camera even zoomed in for a closeup of the envelope containing the Best Picture winner and Fallon announced that this was the envelope that would be opened on the air — and they even got Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, stars of Bonnie and Clyde 51 years ago, to repeat the Best Picture presentation they’d bollixed up the last time and give the Oscar to The Shape of Water. There were other things about the show that amused me, including the fact that all five of the nominees for Best Visual Effects — Blade Runner 2049 (the winner); Guardians of the Galaxy, part 2; Kong: Skull Island; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; and War for the Planet of the Apes — were sequels (and some of them, including Kong and War, were sequels of remakes or reboots!) — and of those five films only Blade Runner 2049 was nominated in any other category. Overall it was a good program and worth seeing even though Charles and I, who hardly ever go to movie theatres anymore — we’ve accustomed ourselves to waiting for the DVD’s to come out — had only seen two of the nominated films, Logan (the last in the X-Men cycle featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine) and the documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, which ran as a PBS Frontline special on September 12, 2017.